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Grand Canyon: Take a Hike Through Geological Time

Bright Angel Trail

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(Image credit: Andrea El-Wailly)

The geological time traveler now turns north along the river and joins up with the Bright Angel Trail to travel up for 7.7 miles (12.4 km) and ascend 4,420 feet (1,347 m) to again stand on the South Rim. Following a natural break in the massive cliffs by the Bright Angel Fault, Native American people for millennia followed the passable cliffs to enter the Grand Canyon. In the early 1880s, Arizona business man Ralph Cameron extended and improved the ancient trail, opening the opportunity to travel through time to people all over the world. The trail was turned over to the National Park Service in 1928. Explorer John Wesley Powell first used the name Bright Angle Creek when he named a fresh water stream that continues today to flow into the Colorado River.

Bright Angel Creek

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(Image credit: Andrea El-Wailly)

Bright Angel was one of the first names used to describe the many features of the Grand Canyon: Bright Angel Canyon, Bright Angel Camp, Bright Angel Point and, as seen here, Bright Angel Creek are all major features of the Grand Canyon. The source of the water for Bright Angel Creek is several large holes in the Redwall Limestone cliffs at a place known as Roaring Spring, so named for the sound of the gushing water coming from the canyon wall.

Hiking back up

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(Image credit: Andrea El-Wailly)

As the climb back up to the South Rim continues, our hiker must give way on the trail to other Colorado River visitors who have chosen their journey on the backs of reliable mules. Sauntering along the Bright Angel Trail, these sure-footed animals were first used in the Grand Canyon in the early 1920s. They have carried thousands of visitors from all around the world, including Theodore Roosevelt, past the geological formations of time into and out of the great canyon.

Beavertail cactus

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(Image credit: Andrea El-Wailly)

The journey back up the Bright Angel Trail leaves the cool, riparian zone of the Colorado River and quickly returns to the arid landscape found within the canyon. Here a beavertail cactus greets our traveler as the climb to the top continues.

A strenuous hike of 3.1 miles (5 km) from the Colorado River is a Cottonwood-shaded oasis first used by the ancient native people. Known as Indian Gardens, the welcoming rest stop along the trail is at an elevation of 3,875 feet (1,180 km) and 4.6 miles (7.4 km) from the South Rim. The trail to Indian Gardens was first built by the Havasupai people, and because of the perennial flow of a small creek, was used to grow summer crops.

Risky business

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(Image credit: Andrea El-Wailly)

A hike through this geological wonderland can be dangerous, and great preparation and caution should be taken. The National Park Services reminds travelers to hydrate and take scheduled rest stops. A quick change in the weather can result in flash flooding and rockslides. Being in an arid climate, heat is a common concern especially during the summer months.

Remarkable experience

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(Image credit: Grand Canyon National Park)

Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail are known as the two superhighways of the Grand Canyon because of the thousands of visitors who use these trails each year to walk through this amazing textbook of geological time. The many series of switchbacks found along both trails allow visitors to descend and ascend the steep canyon walls and truly experience firsthand the Grand Canyon.

Mission complete

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(Image credit: Andrea El-Wailly)

Finally the 7.7-mile distance (12.4 km) from the Colorado River to the Bright Angel Trailhead is conquered and once again our exhausted hiker stands upon the Kaibab Limestone surface of the South Rim. After all the layers of geological time were traversed and after all the hours spent on the hot, dusty, winding trails are now over, the grateful hiker stands at the top of the Bright Angel Trail and gazes back down into the magnificent canyon from which she has just emerged, proclaiming now and forever for all to hear, "I hiked the Canyon!"